To learn that your child has type 1 diabetes can be quite a shock. The first response many parents have is bewilderment. How did my child get diabetes, you might ask? Other questions follow. What does this mean for my child’s future? How is this going to change our family? Am I going to be able to adequately care for my child’s needs?
These are questions that are not easily answered, especially at the time of diagnosis. There is so much to learn in so little time and so much at stake. In those days and weeks following the diagnosis of type 1, it is important that you focus on the most critical parts of adjusting to life with diabetes. Here are ways to help you focus on those key adjustments.
Resist the urge to feel guilty
Many parents initially feel a tremendous amount of guilt over their child’s diagnosis, thinking they could have done something to prevent it. This guilt is often related to misconceptions about what causes the onset of type 1. Some believe it results from eating too much sugar, which is not the case. There are many theories about the onset of diabetes, but most point to genetic, environmental and viral causes. The exact causes are not yet known.
Give yourself time to adjust
Diabetes is a challenging condition to manage, especially in a child or adolescent. You are not going to master your child’s diabetes management routine and be able to put it on auto-pilot in the first few weeks. In fact, diabetes is not a condition that ever fares well on auto-pilot. But you can build your confidence at managing diabetes and become adept at problem-solving. But this will take time.
Stay grounded emotionally
Most parents have a wide range of emotion those first few weeks following their child’s diagnosis. For example, one day you may feel anxious about the future, the next you are angry that your child and family have to live with this condition. On another day, you may swing from feeling confident about your diabetes management skills in the morning only to end up feeling defeated by diabetes at the end of the day. The important point to remember is that these emotional swings are normal. The way to stay emotionally grounded during these times is to allow yourself to feel the emotion instead of trying to push it away or distract yourself from feeling them. Then, find someone to talk with who will truly listen. Good options might include a trusted friend, family member, counselor or diabetes support group.
Learn as much as you can about type 1 diabetes
At first, the learning curve for managing diabetes is particularly steep. In the early days following the diagnosis you are trying to navigate multiple glucose tests and insulin injections each day, carbohydrate counting, adjusting insulin doses for exercise and snacking, to name just a few. But, once you understand the basic management routine, make the effort to keep learning. The more you learn about type 1, the less fearful and helpless you will feel and the better you will be able to care for your child’s health. As your child sees your confidence grow in your ability to help them manage their diabetes, their sense of confidence also grows as they envision taking over control of their own diabetes management in the future.
Join your child’s healthcare team
Because diabetes is a challenging condition, it is best managed with the team approach. That team includes your child’s endocrinologist, diabetes educator, dietitian and you. Yes, you must see yourself as part of your child’s diabetes team. You live with your child every day and know him or her better than any of the healthcare professionals ever will. So, it is critical that you be actively involved with the other members of your healthcare team. That means not being afraid to ask questions or even call for emergency consultations in the middle of the night, if necessary. This is not unusual during the first few months following a type 1 diagnosis. Being the central member of your child’s healthcare team also means that you can bring treatment suggestions into the discussion with healthcare professionals. Being a proactive member of your child’s team is the best way for your child to get the best care possible.